Why We Can't Talk About Nice Things
Travis Hedge Coke
I want to talk to you about Wonder Woman: Earth One. Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, and Nathan Fairbairn did some fantastic things in that comic and avoided pretty much all of my fears for how they’d handle things. It’s not shouting “Look at me! Annotate!” with loud winks and nods (though there are a lot allusions, to other comics, to social theories, to the creators of Wonder Woman, though only one is credited - and that by contract). It’s a fun adventure about a young woman leaving her small, isolated home to explore the big world and save a busload of sorority girls and stuff. It’s sweet.
We can’t talk about sweet things, though, as comics fans, as superhero fans, because it agitates a segment of the broader fandom. It bugs them.
Supergirl is my favorite TV show serializing right now, and it’s really cute. It’s sweet. And, virtually every conversation around it is “fans” who are mad she’s not in a belly shirt, that Jimmy Olsen is hot, that they keep having little girls on the show (like, twice in one season!) as if little girls are important enough to be on a tv show and get saved! “Cute” is a way to dismiss the show and Melissa Benoist, the actress playing the lead. It isn’t a way to praise either, because we have internally, as a community, decided it’s an insult.
Patsy Walker: Hellcat and Starfire are two of my favorite currently serializing comics, and Starfire is canceled soon, of course, but it got a year, which isn’t bad these days. They’re cute, fun comics. And, they’re clearly written by functional, cognizant adults, which I can’t really say for a lot of super-books serializing right now. But, because there’s not blood spraying everywhere, constant rape threats, and the leads don’t shove their breasts at the reader or a nearby proxy for the reader who will oooh and aaaah over them, they’re “fuckin kids books.”
That’s where we’re at right now. We can’t have fun things. We can’t have nice things. Kids can’t even have kids’ books, not that I’d call a comic with serial murderers, slavery, and a scene of someone literally up someone’s butt necessarily a kid’s book. (Who’m I kidding? I’d have enjoyed that a lot as a kid.)
How many of you have seen someone insist Deadpool had to be R-rated because “Deadpool is always R-rated” and not just because it made the movie better?
If that’s true, how is it that Joe Kelly’s beloved run that basically defined the parameters of classic Deadpool never rises above PG-13 levels? Or, Fabian Nicieza’s Deadpool and Cable made it fifty issues without going R? Have there been Deadpool comics that would get an R-rating with the level of what they say and show? Sure. They are, even right now, the rare animal.
It's the equivalent of guys who insist real Dragon Ball has a bunch of swearing and Goku is a villain. Because, they saw this thing on the internet one time and they know.
I’m not blaming the internet. Wikipedia is not more dangerous than any other earnest encyclopedia, online or in print. What is dangerous is half-assed research, or taking a small sample and extrapolating the universe out of it. And, combined with our seemingly-desperate need to be hard-asses about everything right now, that results in deciding that Supergirl focusing too much on Supergirl having friends, fighting supervillains, and inspiring girls, that should could spend showing us her panties and killing more people. Or, at minimum, acting like Man of Steel’s Superman and being grimacy and very serious about all things. It’s how we get “Deadpool is always R-rated, it’s practically X, it’s just cray-cray-cray-zzzyyyy!”
We all pick and choose our criteria, our reference points. It’s impossible not to. But, do we also acknowledge that those we choose are done so for subjective reasons? That our preference and our focus is subjective?
Having something nice, or something cute, or charming, something fun, is not depriving the world of things that are hard or intense or brutal. One is not more real or more true to life than the other.
The internet and life have made us all experts, but somehow, having to share space has convinced some people that anyone enjoying different things than them, or enjoying the same thing but in a different way is depriving them of theirs.
That’s how we get to “The problem with Supergirl is that it’s too girly.”
We are still stuck in this mode where it’s very common for someone to accuse people of being fair-weather fans (why the hell shouldn’t they like something more when it’s cool to them, then when the character is in a show they don’t enjoy, the show has a bad season but they like the previous season, etc?), accusing cosplayers or t-shirt wearers of just liking the look or the pattern, an emblem, but not knowing the history of the character or the designer of the emblem. Oftentimes, these accusers are guys who own some kind of SWAT or Female Body Inspector or I Am a Hardcore Extreme Badass t-shirt that reps something they’re clearly not, but do they see this? Probably not.
What’s wrong with wearing a shirt because you like the emblem on it? If it looks nice, that’s good enough.
A costume? There’s nothing worse than deeply-researched Halloween costumes, for sure, so why would I worry about it with a cosplayer at a convention? People wear stuff because it looks cool all the time. Why do you think Deadpool has all those pouches?